Tough Conversations

Business,Judy's Book by on October 23, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Today we announced the decision to scale back operations at Judy’s Book. I’m tremendously impressed with how well Andy navigated the incredibly difficult conversations and I have a lot to learn from his leadership over the last few days.

Andy just posted about the decision to scale back at Judy’s Book.

I’ll have a longer, hopefully more insightful post in the future.

Company Retreats

Business,Judy's Book by on July 17, 2007 at 11:20 pm

We just had our annual JB company retreat on Lopez Island. We left Seattle early Monday AM and returned midday Tuesday.

Company retreats are held in many different forms. Sometimes retreats hold day-long meetings, while others are purely social. Some encourage spouses, some don’t. Some retreats involve travel to exotic places, while others are held offsite nearby.

At Bain, we rented an entire wing at the Mt Washington Hotel and held elaborate parties for two nights. KC and the Sunshine Band played one night, but the second night featured the ‘Bain Band’, a group of consultants with musical talent played reworded pop songs. The long weekends typically involved a lot of drinking, dancing and socializing. The entire office returned refreshed with tighter relationships and always a bit of office gossip.

While clearly inappropriate for a startup, memorable retreats can certainly be had on much, much tighter budgets.

I’ve never seen a retreat that wasn’t worthwhile. I’ve seen plenty of retreat meetings that are worthless, but as long as the retreat involves an overnight and a social group of people they always build better teams.

‘Google Farts’ – Unexplained drops and subsequent rises in search traffic

Judy's Book,Search,SEO by on June 1, 2007 at 8:26 am

Yes, even Google has indigestion.

The graph below is a disconcerting sight to any website (this is from our deals subdomain). Organic search traffic from Google plummeted on Friday, and was down 90% on Saturday and Sunday. By Tuesday everything was normal. We had changed nothing. Throughout this ‘fart’, organic traffic to our www domain was unchanged.

urchinreport.png

My thought on Friday was that Google Analytics was having one of its all to frequent data update delays. I was out this weekend, and fortunately didn’t check the stats (If I had, I’d have spent most of the weekend trying to find a non-existent problem). On Tuesday when I got in, I shifted into troubleshooting mode. SEO troubleshooting small sites is difficult, but troubleshooting large sites can be very time consuming.

By midday Tuesday, the data looked normal so I stopped digging. I only burned a few hours on this non-existent problem, but could have easily burned a lot more (for example if the problem persisted for another day or two).

I can’t help but feel (wish?) that at some point Google will be held liable for crap like this.

Measuring the Impact of Universal Search on Local Search Traffic

Analysis,Judy's Book by on May 24, 2007 at 11:17 pm

I expected that Google’s new Universal Search results would have an impact on Judy’s Book’s traffic. We get a decent amount of traffic from regular search, but we also get a healthy amount of traffic because our reviews are embedded in Google Local. Since most of our Google traffic is local-related and since local is one of Google’s verticals, I expected the Universal Search switch to have some impact.

The short answer is that it didn’t have a big impact on overall traffic, but it is clear that Universal Search has impacted how users interact with Google’s services. The total number of visitors remained about the same, but the source of the traffic did change slightly.

Our share of visits from Google is shown in the graph below.

universal-search2.png

Our traffic from maps.google.com doubled (from 2% to 4%), which may indicate that Universal Search is sending more traffic to Google’s maps property.

The google.com/maps referrals were mostly onebox referrals, which theoretically have gone away. You can still get there by doing an address search and clicking on the Google map or the address. Still, I don’t understand why the traffic swap would have been so smooth between the onebox results (which declined) and organic results (which grew).

Hiring Serenedipity

Business,Judy's Book by on May 16, 2007 at 11:31 pm

At an early startup (20 employees), nearly all key employees come through referrals. Startups grow through concentric circles - people the founders know, followed by people the investors and early employees know, followed by friends of friends, etc.

This type of hiring takes time and effort but yields trusted, committed team members that grow with the company. There are few better ways to hire, but every now and then hiring serendipity happens - a star finds you through an unexpected channel.

A great developer saw our Craigslist post and dropped us an email on Thursday. We phone screened on Thursday, did our first round of interviews on Friday. We gave him an offer on Monday, by Tuesday he accepted and today he started (Wednesday). I keep pinching myself - he is incredibly smart, very driven (gets things done) and a great fit with our team (not to mention that I was out Thursday and Friday and our dev team made sure this moved so quickly).

Which gets me to my second point. When a rockstar walks through your front door, get him in your company as fast as possible.

Looking at markets in new ways – CouponLooker

Judy's Book by on April 5, 2007 at 11:34 pm

If you read the other JB Blogs, you’re already aware that we’ve launched a beta vertical search site: CouponLooker

There are hundreds of great coupon sites out there. But it is simply not possible for any one of them to be comprehensive. Our goal was to create a resource that makes it easy for users to search the entire landscape of coupon sites. Google just sends users to pages. We surface, rank and dedupe the coupons so that users don’t have to do this work themselves. By making the coupons more accessible and easier to find, we also hope to increase the number of people that search and find coupons online. We expect to drive many new customers to the coupon sites.

We realized early on that we needed to make the coupon sites that comprise our search index successful. Coupon sites make money by embedding their affiliate codes into the links to the merchant websites. We don’t link directly to merchant websites - all of our links go back to the coupon sites with the most relevant coupon codes. Instead of affiliate revenue, we expect to make our money through sponsored advertisements along the top and right of the search results (currently sponsored links).

The search algorithm still has a way to go, but we’ve built it in a way that enables us to iterate quickly. I think it provides usable results today, but that we’ll be able to blow the current implementation out of the water in the near future.

You can also install a coupon search widget for your blog (I need to work with my template to make the sidebar larger so it can fit):

more coupon codes at couponlooker

The Value of Ranking #1

Analysis,Judy's Book,Search,SEO by on February 28, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Matt McGee of Small Business SEM wrote a brilliant post on the the value of occupying the first search position. Here’s a graph detailing click share against position:

aol-search-data.gif

I guess we all intuitively understood this, but I was shocked that the top position saw 10x the traffic of the fifth position (which is still above the fold).

Shotguns and Sniper Rifles

I think that this suggests a lot about SEO strategy. JB receives lots of long-tail search traffic. Our approach towards SEO has been largely on-page optimization - we haven’t undertaken any linkbuilding efforts. We’ve aggregated a lot of our reviews into topically relevant pages that would be easy to link to, but we’ve largely taken a build it and links will come approach.

This data makes me rethink that strategy. Anecdotally, I know that we rarely rank in the top position, although we frequently make the top 5. I wonder if the next step would be to take a look at our long tail organic traffic and determine the rank of those terms. It would be simple to determine an ‘upside’ from this data and develop a much shorter list of terms to focus on. I’m curious what focused link building could do for some of those terms. It seems like something worth experimenting with.

Series of great posts on UGC

Business,Judy's Book by on February 3, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Rahul has written several great posts over the past few weeks that do a great job reflecting some of the obvious & non-obvious learnings that we’ve picked up at Judy’s Book. Here are a few of my favorites:

On incremental development (OK, not related to UGC, but still a good post):
Incremental development also lets you change course earlier if you’re wrong. You never really know if it’s going to work unless you put it out there and see. Anything that lets you get to that point in less time is the right way forward in my book.
On aggregation & UGC:
* Create a data asset by content aggregation first - value for initial users, SEO-worthy pages
* Create lightweight ways fo users to add unique content around your data asset
On compensating users:
People are quick to optimize against whatever model you put in place and if you’re not careful about measuring and adapting your system, you’ll quickly find yourself paying for contributions that don’t create any value.

On user governance systems:

One thing is clear though - if you’re in the user generated content business, finding a governance system that will let you maintain the quality and tone of data you want in a scalable fashion will be a competitive advantage. Presenting new users with information they find valuable earlier in their interaction cycle makes them that much more likely to stick around, participate and contribute their own $0.02.

This last post is a gem and should be read end-to-end (actually, they all should be).

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